A JOISSAM employee works on a borehole in Kumisa, Ghana. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

A JOISSAM employee works on a borehole in Kumisa, Ghana. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl


Ghanaian Water Business Flourishes As Company Founder Learns to Let Go

Samuel Appenteng thought he was managing his company well.

All decisions at JOISSAM Ghana Ltd., the Ghanaian water services company run by Appenteng, went through him. Broken pipe at a site? Call him. Budget shortfall on a project? Call him.

“My natural instincts were to be in total control, and because I thought I understood the whole value chain, everything had to pass by me for approval,” Appenteng said.

It was obvious the company couldn’t run without him. Indeed, this fact was the root of Appenteng’s biggest fear: that the company he built would one day collapse without him, taking with it all the jobs and positive impacts he’d created in communities.

“It’s something that has been haunting me all the time,” he said.

That wasn’t the case when Appenteng founded the company in 1996. JOISSAM sprang from Appenteng’s fascination with boreholes and his desire to help people access water in a region where it can be a huge challenge. He dreamed of running a water business spanning all of West Africa.

Nearly 20 years later, he was almost there, eyeing markets in neighboring countries, clearing 2.2 million Ghanaian shillings (US $570,000) in revenue in 2014, and employing over two dozen people. But Appenteng also felt overworked and disconnected from his employees.

Then he started the Stanford Seed Transformation Program, which helps leaders in developing economies grow their businesses. Within his first three Seed sessions, Appenteng realized he needed to change his management approach. 

“There was no way we were going to grow into the future with that kind of style,” he said.

He implemented trust-building exercises with his employees, some of whom he’d worked with for several years but realized he didn’t really know. He created an atmosphere where people felt free to speak their minds. He began to listen to people more and delegate more. He even brought his board of directors to the Seed office to hear about corporate governance from a Stanford instructor; this got them excited about growth and less cautious about taking risks.

The results have been impressive. Not only are employees more engaged in the company, but also JOISSAM’s revenue doubled in 2015 versus in 2014. In 2016, the company is aiming for revenue of 15.3 million shillings (US $3.95 million) – almost triple its 2015 revenue. And Appenteng is finally fulfilling his dream of expanding across West Africa: JOISSAM plans to enter the Ivory Coast and Nigeria markets this year, and other African countries in the coming years.

 Appenteng said JOISSAM’s transformation wouldn’t have been possible without Seed.

“I’ve done a lot of reading around. Nobody taught us any of these things,” he said. “So I’m very grateful to Seed.”

– By Laura Elizabeth Pohl for the Stanford University Graduate School of Business